Outside the Bomb Factory, religious protesters were trying to reach a crowd who was more prone to carve Slayer into their arms than don their Sunday best. Inside, beer, bras, and bro’s were flung around wildly as the Dallas metalheads were attending their own church. The church of fuckin’ Slayer!
Coming into Dallas for their final world tour, the legendary thrash-metal titans created a magnificent world that those protesters would be either unwilling or unable to comprehend. A world where Testament, Behemoth, and Anthrax would play crushing sets before the sun had even set. A world where pentagrams, inverted crosses, and skulls decorate the stage. A world where the capacity crowd guzzles beer and slams their bodies into each other. Had those protesters entered the venue, they likely wouldn’t be converted, but scared to death. That said, if they were unimpressed with the camaraderie and brotherhood felt among those 4,000 fans….well, screw ’em.
I was a little puzzled when I got word Testament would take the stage at 5:00 pm. Downtown Dallas on a week day? Deep Ellum? Where it’s easier to score drugs than a parking spot? But, you should never underestimate the dedication of metal fans. The line to get into the Bomb Factory stretched from the door all the way to Malcolm X, two blocks away. By the time I got inside, there was a line 100 people deep for Slayer merch and the venue was already 3/4’s full.
Testament took the stage to a huge applause from the crowd, who were no doubt thrilled to be there versus fighting rush hour traffic. Though they only played a 35-minute set, the band blazed through tracks from their two most recent albums, Brotherhood of the Snake and Dark Roots of Earth, and classic tracks from their 1988 album The New Order. Guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson were on fire, jumping on pedestals during their guitar solos and dazzling the crowd with their precision. Of course, Gene Hoglan was a beast behind the kit and vocalist Chuck Billy is a consummate front man. As Billy lead the crowd through “Into the Pit,” you could tell immediately it was going to be great night.
Polish extreme metallers, Behemoth, followed and pushed things even closer toward mayhem. Playing six songs across five albums, the band incited riotous behavior from the crowd. Joined by Hoglan for the song “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” the band seemed to be aware that this was a historic evening. Indeed, vocalist Adam Darski told the crowd it was an honor to have the drummer join them for the track. As they powered through songs like “Ov Fire and the Void,” “Demigod,” and “O Father O Satan O Sun!,” it became obvious that while many were in attendance for Slayer’s final show, there were plenty of people who were thrilled to death to see Behemoth. The band was razor-sharp and intent on being one of the highlights of this five band lineup.
The always fantastic Anthrax followed and immediately set the show ablaze. Opening with their classic song “Caught in a Mosh,” the crowd went berserk. Guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello are always fun to watch, because they seem to be having so much fun playing. Vocalist Joey Belladonna was in top form, hitting all his notes pitch-perfectly and flinging guitar picks all over the crowd. It was also great to see Charlie Benante behind the drums. The last three times Anthrax has come through town he was taking a night off. It seemed like nearly every song the band played was a sing-along call to arms. “Antisocial,” “Madhouse,” and set closer “Indians,” were all anthems loudly sung by both Belladonna and the crowd. While I prefer a headlining set from Anthrax, I can’t think of a better band to warm up a crowd. The bring energy, enthusiasm, and great tunes to every show they play. How can you not like Anthrax?
Up next was Lamb of God. Currently promoting their new Burn the Priest covers album, the band was typically excellent. You don’t even have to be a Lamb of God fan to appreciate what they can do live. What is it that they do so well? Everthing. There’s not a single member of the band who’s a slouch at their instrument and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more engaging vocalist than Randy Blythe. While they have the new Burn the Priest album out, the band instead played a set that included songs from their albums Ashes of the Wake, Sacrament, VII: Sturm und Drang, and As the Palaces Burn. The deeper into their set, the larger and more ferocious the pits became. While they got 10 minutes more than the other openers, their set still seemed to fly by. Indeed, many of those in attendance would have been delighted with another 15 minutes.
Going on around 9:30 pm, Slayer finally took the stage and gave the crowd nearly everything they could ever want. Playing a career spanning set that included songs from their first album, Show No Mercy, to their last, Repentless, the band played like it was their last show ever, not just in Dallas. Considering that just about every song could fall into the fan-favorite category, it’s hard to pinpoint any real highlight. However, the crowd sing-along during “Mandatory Suicide” was intense and gratifying. Otherwise, it was just a great set from start to finish. Guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt were spot-on throughout the night. No matter who had the solo, it was scorching. Drummer Paul Bostaph was fluid and dynamic. He doesn’t get the love that founding drummer Dave Lombardo receives, but he certainly nails all the songs whether he recorded them or not.
Vocalist/bassist Tom Araya sounded great, whether through his vocals or bass. Araya’s voice has aged far better than many of his contemporaries. His voice was strong and powerful and he seemed focused on giving Dallas his best performance. While it’s purely speculation on my part, and hard to determine someones mood from 100 feet away, it did seem like the weight of this final tour weighed on Araya’s mind throughout the show. Sometimes gazing out into the crowd between songs without uttering a word, it seemed like he was taking it all in and absorbing the experience.
The band closed with “Angel of Death” and the house lights would go up as the band walked around the stage, end to end, to the adoration of the crowd. As chants of “Thank. You. Slayer.” rung out and others pleaded “Please Keep Going!,” it was hard not to realize that this was truly the end of an era and a remarkable career. Metal fans are metal fans, but Slayer fans are in a league of their own. And while many of Slayer’s contemporaries would experiment with their sound and bend towards musical trends, by and large, Slayer has stayed true to their vision. Doubtless, this has contributed to their loyal and enduring following. If you can get tickets to Slayer’s final tour, you owe it to yourself to witness history.
– J. Kevin Lynch (words); Brently Kirksey (photos)
– click photos to enlarge –